So, SteelChaos arrived again with all its extreme metal glory, so it was well and proper to check it out once again. It was held at Nosturi in Helsinki on the 9th and 10th of November, 2018.
Well, doesn’t this take you back? SteelChaos 2017 was the first article I ever wrote, so the festival itself holds some sentimental value to me nowadays. Of course, it was also a sublime experience, all things considered, so it was natural that I’d dive into this again to bang my head some. Sadly, this year was particularly bad for an old man’s feet, since some of the seating was removed. Disregarding all that, let’s get right into it.
Cavus had the honor of starting off the weekend – and par the course for an opener band – wasn’t anything too special. Some of the anemic presence on stage probably was owed to the very small audience, even if the singer did try to wake people up somewhat. The volume itself didn’t do any big favors for them, since it was hard to discern anything under the constant coating of noise. Nonetheless they did try to make most of their short time slot.
Even if Galvanizer kind-of sort-of let me down with their intriguing intro song, it descended quite rapidly into pretty boring deathrash-y territory. The energy of the trio – however – couldn’t be denied. It is a shame, however, how very little of that energy went into making something more memorable. Maybe most of that is only due to the live setting and the relative youth of the band, but during this time, I can’t recommend them.
First things first: A studded codpiece. Never thought I’d write those words on anything, but there it was: Evil Angel‘s frontman, Orgasmatron, was wearing one of ’em. Making a return to somewhat more traditional/orthodox black metal, it somehow managed to sound a bit more subdued and thus not bad at all. Making most out of his… uh… ‘unconventional’ look, he made most out of it and kept an interestingly good balance of dark music and light-hearted self-deprecating jokes.
True Black Dawn, along with their meathook freakshow was a bit of a letdown as well, but let’s pin it on a matter of perspective. Sound-wise they weren’t very different from the previous three, thus a bit boring. You can only listen to similar-sounding bands for so long before it gets tedious, but I digress. Regarding the issue of perspective, the hanging man on (or above, in this case) stage wasn’t particularly impressive when viewed from above, but getting closer to the stage, he did make more sense. With the lights bending around his body and having this profound stillness amidst the noisy chaos created an effective juxtaposition which was impressive, and was lost if viewed from any distance at all.
Speaking of similar-sounding bands, Armour definitely was not one of them. Interestingly, they were much more traditional heavy metal or hard rock, somewhat at odds with the extreme metal composition of the festival. Maybe because of that, I was much more on board with Armour than in other contexts. A refreshing breeze among the oceans of angst, Armour reminded the crowd of the importance of getting absolutely shitfaced drunk every now and again, preferably with good music and company. No bells and whistles, just get in there and have a good time.
Convinced now that I am not a reality-bending accident-causing wizard (a shame, that), Bölzer managed to make their presence felt in Steelchaos this year. The Swiss duo’s music was surprisingly good, made even more surprising by the fact that they were a duo. Their set was very well-rehearsed, well-realized, and made good use of the lighting and smoke, thus elevating the ambient side as well. There’s honestly not much to say here – if you were a Bölzer fan beforehand, you got your money’s worth. And if you weren’t a fan, you probably are now… guilty as charged.
Marduk as well, did not disappoint. Saying that their music kicks all sorts of ass, they certainly did just that and with great gusto, and it seemed that the audience thought the same. Sound-wise they were pretty much peerless for the evening (only matched by Bölzer and surpassed by Arcturus), but being a long-running band it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Dripping machismo and loud, aggressive charisma, Marduk certainly did do a great job at energizing the crowd and growing a few extra chest hairs to everyone in attendance.
Closing out the first evening was Arcturus with their old-school set of the two first albums (presumably Aspera Hiems Symfonia and La Masquerade Infernale). A big shout-out belongs to the competent sound guy behind the desk for keeping the mixing extremely tight, thus keeping the range of their music intact. The experience itself was damn good, being very dissimilar to the prior bands, so keeping it interesting was a given. A big component of the great sound was the vocalist, ICS Vortex, who painted a vivid color on those strange and wonderful dimensions their music conjures.
The first day thus over, the second day was rife with bands I hadn’t ever seen as well.
Devouring Star has a really kickass name, that much is obvious. Whether it describes a star at the end of its life when it either expands and devours parts of the solar system, explodes into a supernova, or collapses into a black hole depending on its mass, remains unanswered, but I digress… again. With this opening band I felt that the volume was much more subdued than previously, so sound-wise things were better and the trio on stage seemed to be much more in the groove of things than their predecessor from yesterday. The mood in the music was much more audible than a lot of the excessive banging, so DS jumped higher in the enjoyment scale than I’d have expected from this opener band and will definitely be checking these guys out later on as well.
Being ‘in the groove’ seemed to be a major theme going into the second day, since Morgal was actually pretty damn good as well. Mentioning earlier that a more traditional style of metal worked great on the first day, it seemed that these guys had somehow read my mind years ago, since being a bit more old-school with their choice of riffs seemed to breathe new life into the relentless bang and crunch of more orthodox black metal. Again, they went into my ‘must see again’ list pretty handily.
Returning to a much more ‘regular’ style and sound, Azaghal, along with their Valo Pohjoisesta album release party, made a convincing case as to why adhering to orthodoxy isn’t a bad thing sometimes. Seeing as Azaghal has played for 20+ years in various incarnations, it’s no wonder that their presence on stage is good (if a bit immobile) and performing is second nature to them. Keeping up with the trends, this goes into the ‘will go see again’ bin.
Thy Darkened Shade from Greece was next, and yeah, that went into that same bin as well. Starting to notice some sort of pattern here. The variety in their longer songs wasn’t unwelcome for me, since 10 minutes of the same would get monotonous very fast. The only complaint I have is that their stage performance was somewhat anemic, but again, 10-minute songs. Also there wasn’t that much space to share between the four members (five, with the drummer of course), so a lot of the minimal movement can easily be forgiven.
Speaking of minimal movement, Czech Root and its’ singer Big Boss proved that it’s just the folly of youth and unneeded when you’re metal as fuck, even if the instrumentalists begged to differ. There seems to be something in the Czech water, since Master’s Hammer last year and Root this year make convincing cases of Satanism being cool as hell, and the Czech language seems to be tailor-made for black metal, being the unholy mess that it is to write. Putting all that aside however, the switching between clean and rough singing by Big Boss was impressive and fit surprisingly well into the genre, as well as the music being damn catchy.
Going into the complete opposite of the mood spectrum, Ruins of Beverast went into the dark ambiance that I find most comforting and holy shit did they deliver. Scratching the particular itch of solitude, contemplation, and utter despair, Ruins of Beverast did what Saor did in Steelfest: proved themselves to be the best band at this festival, for their crystal clear vision and the intense emotion that it managed to bring forth.
Domestic Impaled Nazarene once again swung that pendulum and proceeded to shred the hell out of all that emotional spectrum nonsense and proceeded to go full-blown ANGRY MARINE on the attendees. Seeing as their whole performance was fire and brimstone from start to finish, there’s not a whole lot to say, so… mission accomplished.
Closing us out was Primordial from Ireland and they managed to strike a pretty good balance compared to the two previous performers. Having a good amount of sulfur gave the band great punch, but not overtly so that it didn’t descend into mind-numbing banging. In fact, mind-numbing wasn’t anywhere near Primordial, since their songs were really catchy and a joy to listen to. The good mixing allowed everything to come out crisply and the performance was extremely energetic, including the audience that was massively on board with them. Worthy of being the closing band, the Irish group gave their best.
As a matter of tradition, if there are bands in a festival I haven’t heard of yet, I remain in complete blackout towards them before I see them live. That said, second day had better bands than the first one. Steelchaos and Steelfest still remain among my favorite festivals for their great organization, surprisingly good niche bands, and the outstanding community. Time after time (well, third time) I’m surprised how absolutely well everything goes and how little trouble there is in any of these events.
Photos: Marco Manzi